SBS to get people talking with a Muslim take on Big Brother

A Muslim take on Big Brother will be one of the highlights of SBS's line-up in 2018, as the broadcaster seeks fresh ways of fulfilling its charter obligation to "inform, educate and entertain all Australians and, in doing so, reflect Australia's multicultural society".

In Muslims Like Us, 10 Australian Muslims representing different aspects of the faith will spend eight days cooped up in a share house, cameras on them around the clock.

"We've cast it so we represent different spectrums of the faith, geographical diversity, gender diversity, age diversity, sexual diversity," said Marshall Heald, the network's director of TV and online content. "We want to demystify and explode some of the stereotypes about the community and give people a far better sense of the diversity within it."

But Mr Heald refused to be drawn on whether or not the cast would include a representative of the extremist brand of Islam.

"I wouldn't use that word, but we're definitely looking at people from all aspects of the faith, so some people have more hardline views than others," he said.

Are we talking IS hard line?

"I'm probably not comfortable going further into it now."

Whatever the constitution of its cast, the show is bound to get people talking, which is precisely the point.

"We're always looking to provoke with purpose. We're trying to create a more cohesive society, and we're looking for creative, cut-through approaches to issues," Mr Heald said. "It's only through debate that people can get to understand different perspectives, and that's good for everyone. We want to be broadly inclusive of opinion."

The drama series Safe Harbour will aim to do that by casting the ongoing refugee crisis in a fresh light. In the four-part series, a group of young Australians are sailing around the country when they come across a stranded fishing boat packed to the gills with asylum seekers. They decide to tow it to land, but a storm forces them to alter course. When they wake up the next morning, they discover the rope has been cut and the boat is gone. Five years later, one of the shipmates gets in a taxi to find the driver was one of those on the stranded boat. The drama is about what happens next.

"The issue we've got is that in the age we live in, sometimes facts don't persuade people," Mr Heald said. "If you move them to the world of fiction, sometimes feelings might get cut-through."

The series is one of only three drama commissions on SBS - the others being the Rachel Griffiths-led crime drama Dead Lucky and the third and final season of The Family Law - but the network has also commissioned a teen-oriented drama for NITV and a comedy for its On Demand service.

Grace Beside Me is the first scripted drama for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander channel, and the 13-part series set in far north Queensland also has investment from Disney.

Homecoming Queens, the first commission for SBS On Demand, is billed as a "sadcom" about two twentysomething friends "recovering from chronic illness and trying to get their lives together".

There will be a second series of Filthy Rich and Homeless, a new piece of national soul-searching in Is Australia Sexist? and second seasons of high-profile imports The Handmaids Tale and The Good Fight.

There will also be a slate of programs to be developed in collaboration for Vice, with the 20 or so factual half-hours likely to score not just a local airdate but also screentime on Vice's 50-plus channels globally.

But by far the most ambitious piece of programming in next year's line-up involves a fresh take on a now-familiar offering.

Go Back Live will be the fourth season of SBS's observational documentary in which a handful of Australians confront the refugee crisis head-on - but these time it will be filmed and broadcast live. Well, mostly live.

"About 60 per cent will be live, about 40 per cent pre-recorded," said Mr Heald.

Though it isn't slated to screen until the second half of the year, "planning is absolutely underway already," he said.

Likely locations will include "a couple of war zones, a couple of refugee bottlenecks", and the broadcaster's international news and current affairs teams will "more than likely" be involved.

"The live element is to make sure the audience gets a sense of urgency."

And, of course, to keep things interesting, on both sides of the screen.

"We do look for a small number of ideas that scare us," he said. "And this one certainly does."

This story SBS to get people talking with a Muslim take on Big Brother first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.